Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek says the team is making strides despite having lost six games in a row, including Wednesday night's last-second loss to the Bucks.
"We did a lot of things right," Hornacek told reporters after Wednesday's game. "We moved the ball better. We played good defense, we helped each other out and they're in the locker room tired right now. So they played as hard as they could, and that's all you can ask. That's making strides."
Carmelo Anthony agreed with Hornacek's assessment.
"I think we'll win a lot of games if we play the way that we played throughout most of this game," Anthony said.
The Knicks, at 16-19, are 1.5 games behind the Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but just 3.5 games behind the Hornets for the fourth spot.
The reality surrounding Wednesday night's game, and perhaps the loss against the Magic, is that the if Kristaps Porzingis had played, the Knicks probably win both games.
With the Knicks up 17 points Wednesday night to start the fourth quarter, Hornacek decided to rest both Anthony and Derrick Rose, focusing the offense around Brandon Jennings. Without Porzingis, the Knicks struggled to get good shots early and before you knew it the Bucks were back in the game. Porzingis is a shot-maker who can extend leads and shoot you back into games instantly.
No one can question the team's effort last night and Hornacek doesn't believe it's an effort issue on a nightly basis. Without a fully healthy "big three" of Porzingis, Rose and Anthony, the Knicks' margin of error to win is razor thin. They aren't good enough defensively to stop teams consistently and they aren't good enough to spot teams 20 points. They have to work to get better defensively and execute on the offensive end if they want to turn this current skid around.
Case in point was Wednesday night. As Milwaukee made their run, the Knicks -- especially Jennings, who had a bad game -- couldn't create open shots. That led to the Knicks forcing contested shots, but more importantly it limited them from getting to the free throw line because there was no pressure on the Bucks' defense.
The Bucks weren't in the penalty when Courtney Lee got fouled after a huge offensive rebound with the team up one, which put the Knicks in the situation where they had to inbound the ball to Rose. A controversial no foul call on Rose aside, Lee should have been icing the game from the free throw line.
Wednesday night's loss is the type that happens when you're on a losing streak. The Knicks made all the plays to win and had a big game from Anthony. Winning one without Porzingis would have felt like stealing a game and instead the exact opposite happened, with the Bucks celebrating on the Knicks' floor.
Hopefully the visual of that celebration sticks with the Knicks as they head into the rematch Friday night.